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Emotion Engineering: A Scientific Approach For Understanding Game Appeal
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Emotion Engineering: A Scientific Approach For Understanding Game Appeal

July 29, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

Since these variable categories are abstract, it may be difficult to understand how they're linked to concrete interactions.

The two following tables give examples of how game interactions cause changes in variables in each of these categories.

The first table shows changes emanating from the game's actions, the second from the player's actions. Changes can be either temporary (requiring little effort to cancel) or persistent (affecting the value of the variable durably).

Game Induced Variable Change (click for full size)

Player Induced Variable Change (click for full size)

About these tables

Some items appear in several cells. Complex interactions, like for instance "Being stealthy", have too many concurrent effects on the game variables to fit into two or three cells. They must be broken down into simpler parts if we want to analyze their influence.

If I have chosen to represent these game variables as mono-dimensional numeric variables, speaking of increase and decrease in their values, I have no idea which units I should use for them. Is freedom quantified by counting available choices weighted by their importance or is it a succession of fitness functions rewarding more and more states in the game space? At this early stage, it matters little if we can recognize fluctuations in values and roughly evaluate their relative sizes, which I believe is the case.

Emotions and Game Design Rules

Spurred by Nicole Lazzaro's work on players' emotions, I tried to link game variables and emotions. I came to believe that a given emotion could be associated with the values and variations of one or several variables. If this were the case, this would be a template for a game design rule, a rule explaining how a given emotion can be achieved:

A game design rule template

The two-headed arrow describes the possible values for the variable. The rectangle indicates the range in which a decrease, a persistent value or an increase generates conditions for the associated emotion.

And here are two instantiations of this template:

If you reduce the number of choices a player has at the cognitive level - which means that he may have the tools and plans to face a challenge but is overmatched or doesn't have the opportunity to use them - and maintain him in this state (Low Freedom at the System level), you may drive him to despair. But if you then give him an opportunity (Increase), suddenly there's a way out. Suddenly, there's hope.

A game design rule

If you maintain a balanced difficulty that provides challenging obstacles with appropriate rewards and acknowledgements of the player's successes (High Mastery at the Self level), you can induce a sense of pride in him. Now, offer him an easy way out of a challenge and reward him disproportion ally for taking it (Decrease), and you induce the shame that comes with ill-gotten gains.

Another game design rule

Of course, such conditions don't guarantee that the player will feel the chosen emotion. They just create a context that is favorable to the expression of this emotion. Knowing that, the game can provide the player with corresponding feedback or cultural cues, like booming music to underline hope, without causing an emotional dissonance.

Here's a table listing some emotions associated with the values and variations of the gameplay variables. As previously, some items may appear in several cells. You'll notice that I use the widest possible definition of "emotions" in order to also cover other mental states, perceptions and feelings.

Emotions (click for full size)

* Mimicry requires focus, implicit rules and a somewhat applicable knowledge of the mimicked process.
** Agon can practically occur anywhere, even in Too Low Mastery if there is randomness (Parcheesi) or metagame factors (Rock Paper Scissors).

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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